Thursday, November 25, 2010

Skate America 2010: Long Overdue...

I've been meaning to write this post for over a week, and now Cup of Russia has come and gone and Trophée Eric Bompard is knocking, so there's not much I can do now other than to sit down among the various food preparations going on and relive the hot mess that the Ladies Free Skate was.

The commentators opened Viktoria Helgesson's performance by talking about how her sister Joshi was "one of the big surprises" in the Short Program the day before. That sure must be encouraging, though I guess there's not much you can say when someone is currently in last place. After taking an age and a half to take her opening pose, Viktoria--whose clockwise jumping is kind of distracting--landed a mediocre triple Lutz. She then did a triple flip + double toe combination, which Tonia Kwiatkowski called "strong" but also seriously lacked any flow out, and a nice combination spin. Viktoria's triple loop was her best jump of the program, but her circular step sequence was slow and uninspiring. Her spiral sequence very lacking in extension, but she pulled off a nice triple toe loop at the end of it. Viktoria put a hand down on the triple loop of her triple loop + double toe combination, forcing her to do a single toe loop for the second jump instead, but then her program seemed to miraculously gain energy.

Viktoria's second combination spin was much faster than the first, and her triple Salchow was nicely landed. She then went into a double Axel + double Axel sequence, and although the landing of the second double Axel was off the music helped carry things along in the final seconds. Her last spin had the speed and energy level of her first, but all in all this was a huge improvement from any last-place program. (However, not such an improvement that I can accept that this was a third-place free skate. The Grand Prix is a disaster.)

Side note: Tonia Kwiatkowski mentions that Viktoria forced the single toe loop at the end of her triple loop because she had already done a solo triple loop earlier in the program. So this mediocre skater can manage that thought process, but Nobunari Oda cannot? Come on.

Like mother, like daughter.

I decided to skip things until Amelie Lacoste, whom I've never heard of until this competition. She began with a nice double Axel + double Axel sequence, with good speed and flow. She kept this speed up through a triple loop + double loop combination, but then badly popped a triple Lutz. Undeterred, Amelie did a nice combination spin right after, then successfully fought for the landing of a triple flip. Spins seem to be her strength--she did another pretty combination spin--but choreography and original music choice are not. Sheherazade? I don't think so.

Amelie then did a decent enough triple loop + double loop combination, but her spiral "sequence" was a simple arabesque without any variations in position. This is probably what Dick Button wants to see, but her flexibility is limited and there were no extra points to be gained. This was followed by a fall on a triple toe loop, an unremarkable step sequence, a triple loop popped into a double, and a final combination spin. Amelie lost a lot of speed and energy near the end of the program, which made my overall impression sort of dull.

After two unimpressive performance I was a little excited to see Caroline Zhang--not because I expected anything spectacular, but because you never know what excitement will happen. She seems to have gained not an insignificant amount of weight, which I feel bad saying but is unavoidable. Promisingly, though, Caroline started with a good triple flip + double toe combination without the famous mule kick. Yet in the next instant, this all fell to pieces as she landed a triple Lutz popped into an underrotated, wrong-edged double in a split. Yes, this is exactly the kind of excitement I was waiting for.

At first I'd thought that Caroline had gained some speed compared to last season, but that seems to have been a 30-second illusion. To her credit, she muscled out a double Axel right after her spectacular Lutz, but as usual she essentially came to a dead stop before it. Her two combination spins were uninspiring and a little bit slow, but then she at least landed a triple loop. Caroline's first smile briefly appeared during her spiral sequence, during which she showed off some of what used to be her trademark flexibility, but she then singled an attempted triple flip. After this was a stepped-out triple loop, a very slow step sequence, and a second dead-stop double Axel. Her final combination spin was the highlight of her performance, as she had some pretty layback positions and good speed (until her final Biellmann). Topped with a shrug in the Kiss & Cry, it was a typical Caroline Zhang performance. It's hard to say why she was so smiley.

Next came a different type of disaster: Rachael Flatt. Remarkably, she looks no thinner than Caroline Zhang. Rachael opened with a slightly forward-leaning double Axel + triple toe combination, some arm-waving, and a triple Lutz + double toe combination. An awkward combination spin highlighted the inflexibility in her back, and then came a seriously gross series of moves meant to play to the audience.

I guess this is effort.

After that interlude she went back to her own character and landed a nice triple flip, then went through the motions of a combination spin and an ugly spiral sequence.

Her full extension.

She did make up for some of that with a nice triple Lutz and a triple flip + double toe + double loop combination. Rachael's solo triple loop was also good, but then she started dancing again through her straight-line step sequence. The problem, though, is that she doesn't know how to involve the audience in this dancing--Daisuke Takahashi often does similarly silly moves, but he somehow makes it exciting. Her final jump, a triple Salchow, was also solid, and for some reason the audience got very into her performance at this point. The end result? A standing ovation. Really? Was Skate America that bad? Seriously, I know that I'm not quite objective when it comes to Rachael Flatt, but it's offensive that she's the reigning US National Champion.

Joshi Helgesson, the "surprising" one of the Helgesson sisters, then skated wearing a somewhat outdated dress. She opened with a good triple Lutz, triple loop, and a triple toe + double toe combination. Nothing was spectacular in either sense. Everything seemed just a step slow, which really made her triple Lutz + double toe combination quite difficult to do and watch. Joshi's spins and step sequences were equally flat. A possibly two-footed triple toe loop was followed by a combination spin, an awkward double Axel + double toe combination, and a final double Axel. Her jump repertoire seems to be somewhat limited. Joshi looked quite happy at the end of her performance, but that was before she saw three underrotations and a full downgrade.

Off to the Grand Prix Final!

I was all but ready to simply hand Carolina Kostner the title, given how everything seems to work in this world, but things weren't quite so simple. I'm not sure what's up with her knee, but whatever it is seems to be bad enough that she purposely left out the flip and Lutz from her program. As usual she skated with great speed, and opened with a decent enough triple toe loop and a double Axel, but then singled her second double Axel. Carolina did two combination spins right after each other, followed by a good triple Salchow. After this came a dramatic fall on a triple loop and a second triple loop popped into a double. An ignorable spiral sequence and straight-line step sequence was followed by a forward-leaning triple Salchow with a desperate single toe loop + single loop tacked on to create her only combination of the program. Carolina's final spin had some lovely moments, but her music ended suddenly and on a soft note. I suppose that summarizes her performance.

Maybe I was doing myself a favor by ignoring the Grand Prix...

P.S. Every single Gilles needs to permanently retire, then use the money saved to go on a long family vacation.

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